SIOUX FALLS, S. D. — Rep. Richard A. Gephardt staged a frenzied last-minute effort Monday to overcome Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis in today's primary here, giving speeches across the state and bombarding the airwaves with campaign commercials.
The ads appear to have put Dukakis on the defensive. Arriving here Monday afternoon, Dukakis charged at an airport press conference that the Gephardt ads had "distorted" his record. "If there's one thing we don't need, it's division and anger and polarization, which until recently, we've seen only on the Republican side," he said.
Despite the effect of the ads, aides to the Missouri congressman tried to reduce expectations of a Gephardt victory here, a state the campaign had targeted in hopes of getting momentum and media attention for the upcoming primaries in the South.
'Ran Out of Time'
"If we would have had two more days here we would have done it," said deputy campaign manager Joseph Trippi. "We ran out of time."
In the Gephardt ads, Dukakis is ridiculed for once having suggested that Iowa farmers diversify into other crops, such as Belgian endive, and is portrayed as a tax-raiser.
Dukakis angrily responded Monday that "the people of South Dakota know Mike Dukakis' record, and I don't want it distorted by candidacies that either are getting so desperate or so frantic that they have to engage in negative advertising. Gephardt tried that in New Hampshire, and so did (Illinois Sen. Paul) Simon, and it didn't work."
The Dukakis campaign said that Dukakis raised taxes in his first term as governor after he had inherited a $400-million deficit, but has cut taxes five times since he was reelected in 1982. He didn't urge Iowans to grow endive, but merely pointed out that Massachusetts farmers in one hard-pressed region had done so, his aides said.
Dukakis enjoys the advantage of a strong organization here and exposure gained from an early run of television commercials in January. Gephardt arrived here from New Hampshire on Wednesday to try to catch up and began what an aide described as a "very large" television advertising campaign.
Little Effort in Minnesota
Gephardt's campaign put little effort into Minnesota, which holds its caucuses today and where Dukakis also is expected to be victorious.
Asked if the campaign was already conceding South Dakota, Trippi said: "No. We still think we might be able to do it."
Gephardt aides said that internal tracking polls showed that Gephardt, who was 13 points behind Dukakis a week ago, had reduced the gap to five points on Saturday. "We are moving faster than I've ever seen anybody move," Trippi claimed.
U.S. Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, who is popular among Democrats here, has boosted Gephardt's chances by endorsing him. The senator starred in one of Gephardt's television commercials, sent out 22,000 letters urging Democrats to support him, and appeared with him on the stump.
The Aberdeen American News, one of the larger newspapers in the state, also endorsed Gephardt. "We feel Gephardt has the personal charisma and background to deal with the tough national and international issues," the editorial in Sunday's paper said.
Logs 14-Hour Days
Gephardt, a tireless campaigner, has logged 14-hour days here, meeting with farmers, union activists, students and Democratic activists. On Monday, for example, he attended seven events in South Dakota before flying to Wyoming after nightfall for an eighth appearance. His wife, Jane; mother, Loreen, and brother Don joined him here briefly on the trail on Sunday.
The congressman tells his audiences that foreigners think Americans are "stupid" and "naive" because the United States permits imports from countries that restrict U.S. goods. When he is President, Gephardt says, he will insist that foreign countries open up their markets to U.S. goods or risk losing their U.S. markets.
"I welcome their products," Gephardt told about 125 students and faculty members Monday at South Dakota State University. "We must compete. But by golly, if they can take their products here with ease, I want us to be able to take our products there and sell them with equal ease."
He exhorts crowds to ignore critics who warn his policies could ignite trade wars. "When we have finally stood up," he said, "other countries have opened up."
Gephardt has been warmly received in this agricultural state, which was hit hard by the farm crisis. Most of his audiences interrupt his speeches with applause and laugh heartily at his jokes. When Gephardt tells them, "We're going to tell OPEC where to go," a standard line in his stump speech, they shout "Yeah!" or "All right!" and turn to their neighbors to smile.
'He Knows Our Problems'
"He's one of us," said W. K. (Dutch) Dammeier, 68, a Beadle County commissioner who heard Gephardt speak in Huron, in the eastern part of the state, on Sunday. "He's from the Midwest, and he knows our problems."